Lately, I have re-immersed myself in the ecstatic poetry of Hafiz of Shiraz, the 14th-century mystic Sufi poet. He is a lesser-known contemporary of Rumi, both of whom practiced the path of devotion, also known as Bhakti Yoga in the Hindu tradition. They saw God as the ultimate lover, the only lover, with whom they were constantly trying to reunite by using intense devotional practices. This often took the form of ecstatic poetry, and it’s some of the most beautiful and heart-opening stuff I’ve ever read. It’s become a remedy for me.
One of my favorite Hafiz poems is called “I Know The Way You Can Get.”
Here is an excerpt:
“I know the way you can get
When you have not had a drink of Love:
Your face hardens,
Your sweet muscles cramp.
Children become concerned
About a strange look that appears in your eyes
Which even begins to worry your own mirror
Squirrels and birds sense your sadness
And call an important conference in a tall tree.
They decide which secret code to chant
To help your mind and soul.
Even angels fear that brand of madness
That arrays itself against the world
And throws sharp stones and spears into
And into one's self.”
(Read the whole poem here)
To me, this is much more than a poem. It is a vital reminder to make a practice of “drinking love” every day, and I’ve been using it very consciously for myself in those moments when I recognize that I’ve become disconnected from my own feelings, and have stopped drinking love. But what does that mean exactly?
According to Hafiz, when you haven’t been drinking love, you take life too seriously, you become paranoid, you attack innocent people, you become self-destructive, you mistrust your own heart. Sounds familiar, right? We’ve all been there, and it’s easy to recognize when others are there. When we stop drinking love, we don’t feel loved, and so we become depressed, tense, nervous, anxious, we make up stories, we believe that we’re separate, alone, and in competition with each other. We act out of fear, rationalizing wars, conflicts, competition, and judgment, amongst other things. It’s the old “stuck-in-the-head” paradigm we have come to know so well. It generally doesn’t feel good, and after a while it can literally start to drive us crazy. We have been watching this play out on the world stage for millennia now, and where it is getting us? Maybe it’s time to have a drink of love instead.
When we are drinking love, we are centered in our hearts, and we feel kinder and gentler, more relaxed, more connected. We demonstrate virtues such as understanding, peace, patience, compassion, and forgiveness. We understand intuitively, through the feeling body, not the mind, that we are made out of love itself, and so we naturally want to share that love, letting it flow out of us in every direction. As Hafiz says in the last line of the poem, “All a sane man can ever care about is giving Love!”
So why is it so hard for us to stay in our hearts? Why would we stop drinking love in the first place?
For one, we are a head-dominated culture, valuing logic, reason, and intellect above all else. Most of us have been taught from an early age to view our feelings and emotions as weak and unreliable. And most of us, if not all of us, have at some point been hurt, heart-broken, and as a result we’ve become scared of our feelings, afraid to feel vulnerable, certain that if we do we’ll be hurt again. We’ve built a protective wall around our hearts, packed our bags, and moved into our heads, where we think we’re safe.
Don’t get me wrong, our minds are truly wonderful tools, with an appropriate function and purpose, but they are intended to be in service to the heart. You may have heard the saying, “The mind is a wonderful tool, but a terrible master.” When the mind takes over, or “becomes the master”, we stop drinking love. Disconnected from the heart, the mind is a cold, calculation machine, a highly sophisticated computer, capable of solving incredibly complex problems, storing amazing amounts of data, and understanding many mysterious things, but it cannot feel or know love. It may want to analyze and label the effects of love, but it cannot have a true experience of love itself. So we need the mind and heart to work together to be truly balanced beings. We need to infuse compassion, empathy, and feeling, into our thinking and problem-solving. We need to re-connect with our ability to feel our feelings, to tap into the great wisdom and strength of our emotions. There is tremendous power in this practice.
I always feel better when I’m centered in my heart, 100% of the time. Not only do I feel better, but my life works better. I am more effective. And in those moments when I inevitably find that I have moved back into my head, as soon as I catch myself, I do everything I can to move back into my heart. These days my go-to method is reading or reciting a Hafiz poem to myself (I’ve started memorizing some), and it has been such potent medicine for me. Sometimes it’s just one line from a poem, and at this point, sometimes just thinking of Hafiz and calling on his spirit is all I need to help me find my way back. Using his beautiful work as a tool has changed my life, and helps me to re-center in my heart in a much quicker fashion. I invite you to try it when you find yourself in need of a drink of love. If not with Hafiz, try it with your favorite music, a long embrace with a loved-one, a quiet prayer, a mantra - whatever works for you. The important thing is to identify when you have not had a drink of love, and use whatever beauty you can find around you or within you to inspire you to move back into your heart.